AskDefine | Define catachresis

Dictionary Definition

catachresis n : strained or paradoxical use of words either in error (as `blatant' to mean `flagrant') or deliberately (as in a mixed metaphor: `blind mouths')

User Contributed Dictionary



From catachresis, from , from ‘to misuse’, from + ‘to use’.




  1. The misuse of words; applying a term to something which it should not properly desribe.


applying a term to something which it should not properly desribe
  • Norwegian: katakrese

Extensive Definition

Catachresis (from Greek ), which literally means the incorrect or improper use of a word -- such as using the word decimate (e.g., "they were severely decimated") mistakenly for devastated -- is a term used to denote the (usually intentional) use of any figure of speech that flagrantly violates the norms of a language community. Compare malapropism.
Common forms of catachresis are:
  • Using a word to denote something radically different from its normal meaning.
'Tis deepest winter in Lord Timon's purse – Shakespeare, Timon of Athens
  • Using a word to denote something for which, without the catachresis, there is no actual name.
"a table's leg"
  • Using a word out of context.
'Can't you hear that? Are you blind?'
"To take arms against a sea of troubles..." – Shakespeare, Hamlet
Arguably, however, this is perhaps neither a catachresis nor a mixed metaphor. In context, Hamlet is pondering futility: faced with a sea of troubles, taking up a sword and shield is not going to have an effect on the oncoming wave. In this sense, the quotation is a straightforward metaphor, albeit interpretable as a catachresis.
Catachresis is often used to convey extreme emotion or alienation, and is prominent in baroque literature and, more recently, in the avant-garde.


  • Greek Grammar
catachresis in German: Katachrese
catachresis in Spanish: Catacresis
catachresis in French: Catachrèse
catachresis in Italian: Catacresi
catachresis in Dutch: Catachrese
catachresis in Norwegian: Katakrese
catachresis in Portuguese: Catacrese
catachresis in Russian: Катахреза
catachresis in Swedish: Katakres
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1